Biologists used to count over 1,000 head of elk from the air near Vail, Colorado. The majestic brown animals, a symbol of the American west, dotted hundreds of square miles of slopes and valleys.
But when researchers flew the same area in February for an annual elk count, they saw only 53.
“Very few elk, not even many tracks,” their notes read. “Lots of backcountry skiing tracks.”
The surprising culprit isn’t expanding fossil-fuel development, herd mismanagement by state agenciesor predators, wildlife managers say. It’s increasing numbers of outdoor recreationists – everything from hikers, mountain bikers and backcountry skiers to Jeep, all-terrain vehicle and motorcycle riders. Researchers are now starting to understand why.
“Winslow Homer was an American painter, illustrator and etcher, one of the two most admired American late 19th-century artists and is considered to be the greatest pictorial poet of outdoor life in the United States and its greatest watercolorist”. – From Winslow Homer: 216 Colour Plates, by Maria Peitcheva
“The place suits me as if it was made for me by a kind of providence.” – Winslow Homer, Speaking of his love for Quebec
Things are definitely going to happen when you put a boy, a dog, and a deer together, somewhere in the waters of the Adirondack Wilds, and no doubt that there is more to the story behind the makings of this scene. After all, what could go possibly go wrong?
Few artists have ever been able to capture the mood and nuance of a sporting moment like Winslow Homer. His “Hound and Hunter”, completed in 1892, is certainly a wonderful example of the master’s art. One look, and I am transported to a time gone by, drawn to and within it like a bloodhound to a hot scent.
Like so many great paintings, it begs more questions than it answers, and I for one want to know more. So much more. No doubt you have some questions of your own.
It has been one of my very favorite Homer paintings for many years, and it was one of the very first header images that I ever used to help illustrate Through A Hunter’s Eyes. Apparently I have a good eye, for as it turns out, it may have been Homer’s favorite work too!
“There’s no such thing as too many paintings and prints. Or bronzes of Labradors and pointers and Brittanies and setters. Or glasses with pintails and canvasbacks and salmon and trout flies. Or pictures of you and Charlie with Old Duke and a limit of bobwhites, or a pair of muleys, or a half dozen Canadas, or about a yard of rainbows. Or old decoys and duck calls. There are never too many memories of days past or too many dreams of good times to come”. – Gene Hill, from A Listening Walk, 1995
*”Hound And Hunter” did produce some controversy at the time of its release to the general public. The use of hounds to drive deer before the gun was seen as unpopular among many, even then, and Homer repainted parts of it to make it more appealing. Yet, it remains, as Homer himself referred to it, “a great work”.
“And the fox said to the little prince: Men have forgotten this truth. But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery, From The Little Prince
A young elk tests out a hummingbird feeder in a backyard garden, somewhere near Carbondale, Colorado.
Not to be undone, a mule deer buck gets his licks in too!
I arrived home past midnight last night, to find a small herd of elk feeding in an open pasture to the west. My neighbor keeps his horses here, and I have an unobstructed view of it from our house on the hill. I spotted them as I walked over to our dog kennel on the fence line, and as I studied them I saw a big cow raise her head, just to let me know that she was watching me too.
I don’t suppose I will ever tire of seeing elk. They have a way of taking over the conversation, you might say, to make you pause in mid sentence when you spy one, to make you completely forget whatever you had been doing at the time, as if the world is a mere background created just for them. It has always been this way between the elk and I.
They looked particularly surreal this night, quietly feeding on a blanket of fresh, white powder, surrounded by the mystical light of a high, full moon. I am struck by the picture quality of it all, the sharp crispness of the image frozen in the cold night air. I can only smile. It is a perfect moment in time.
Watching For What Comes
My dogs knew they were out there, of course, being that they were no more than 100 yards away with just some old wire to separate them. They had probably been watching them for some time, waiting for me to come home, whining nervously, and wishing they could run over and join up. The elk, for their part, paid us no mind, as they pawed in the snow. They had seen this show before and are not as impressed as us.
We see quite a few elk around our property when the snows grow formidable in the high country. It is one reason to look forward to winter. They especially like to feed at night in a large hay-field below us, and at first light they bunch up and head for the cover of rougher grounds and cedar trees on the properties and public lands to our North.
To my everlasting delight, they like to cross one small corner of our property as they leave the hay fields, and if we are lucky, we get to watch. I often sit in an overstuffed chair behind our big picture window, waiting, hot coffee in hand, enveloped in the approaching day as the rest of the world wakes up.
Without Winter, No Spring
We have seen herds of one hundred elk and more, although smaller groups are most common. One morning I sat transfixed as a herd of about fifty or so lined up to jump the fence at the edge of the field below our house, then crossed our field on a run and passed along our fence line next to the house. I counted seventeen bulls, some small, some large, surrounded by foggy breath when they stopped. I can see it in my mind’s eye, just now.
At times, a small herd will bed down for the night under our apple trees. Once I looked out to see several lying contentedly in the sun, with freshly laid snow still shimmering on their backs. I’ve seen them browsing in the remnants of our flower garden or standing next to our bird bath, and I wave and say hello.
Welcome, I say, and good morning to you.
Last night, I reach my door and turn one last time to watch the elk and try to lock this image in my memory bank for all time. It is the quintessential Rocky Mountain postcard, a picture postcard for the soul, and I wish I could send it out to you, to all, with good tidings and cheer.
Tis The Season, To Yank Something Up The Hill, And Build The Hunter’s Fire
Just in Time For Christmas Dinner.
Oh Joy To The World!
Man in all his forms has been dragging something along behind him since he first stood upright and made his first staggering steps toward the horizon. Sometimes, it was a big hunk of life sustaining meat just like this.
They say that modern man hunts to fulfill some relentless though mysterious primordial need. Perhaps it is a way to reconnect with mother nature, to feel the wind on our face and remember our true place in the world.
“The real work of men was hunting meat. The invention of agriculture was a giant step in the wrong direction, leading to serfdom, cities, and empire. From a race of hunters, artists, warriors, and tamers of horses, we degraded ourselves to what we are now: clerks, functionaries, laborers, entertainers, processors of information”. – Edward Abbey
“One does not hunt in order to kill, on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted…” – From “Meditations on Hunting”, By Ortega y Gasset
Wildlife funding, public access increased in new Farm Bill
(Dec. 20, 2018) — The $876 billion Farm Bill passed last week by Congress and signed by President Trump today included victories for hunters, anglers and wildlife. As the primary source of private land wildlife conservation funding in the country, the Farm Bill included incentives for wildlife habitat and hunter access. Congress also left out proposed riders to the bill that would have negative impacts on fish wildlife.
“Private working lands provide important habitat for both game and nongame wildlife,” said Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy for the National Wildlife Federation. “With shrinking habitat across the country and species in crisis, one of the exciting wins in this Farm Bill was the increase in wildlife funding. Over a five year period, there will be an additional $600 million-plus over and above current wildlife funding levels that will go towards helping farmers, ranchers, and foresters create wildlife habitat on working lands.”
Here’s how hunters, anglers, fish and wildlife win in the new Farm Bill:
Increased Access: The bill includes $50 million over 5 years for the Voluntary Public Access- Habitat Incentives Program – an increase of $10 million from the last Farm Bill. This program will help farmers and ranchers restore habitat and open up private lands for walk-in hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.
Funding for Wildlife: The move within this farm bill to increase the amount of EQIP funds for wildlife means that there will be a dramatic increase in funding (from the current $60 million per year up to $175-200 million per year) that will go towards helping farmers, ranchers, and forest owners adopt wildlife practices to help species like bobwhite quail, cutthroat trout, and sage grouse.
Cover Crop Fix: Fixes a deterrent to adoption of cover crops in the crop insurance program; along with other provisions this should promote increased adoption of cover crops, which will reduce phosphorus runoff contributing to the kind of toxic algae which creates dead zones and fish kills in water bodies.
Public Lands: A proposed rider harmful to public land wildlife habitat was removed, which would have opened up roadless areas in national forests – backcountry hunting habitat – to forest development.
Salmon Protected: A proposed rider was removed which would have allowed the EPA to approve pesticides despite reviews from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service showing they would harm marine life including multiple species of salmon.
The Farm Bill passed the Senate 87-13 on Tuesday and the House of Representatives 386-47 last week. President Trump signed it into law today.
Apparently, the proper thing to do these days when you miss a deer is to quickly cover your head with your hunting hat and reach for your nearby smartphone. Or at least this young Wisconsin hunter thought so.
Can you say buck fever?
nervousness felt by novice hunters when they first sight game.
Not to fret, young deer huntress (yes, this is a young lady here). We’ve all been there, some more than once, whether we will admit it or not.
And to think, in my day you simply froze in complete, unmitigated panic until the animal walked off, and then hung on to the nearest limb with all of your arms and legs and with everything you had for an hour or more.
So you did not fall out of your treestand… As if your life depended on it…Because if you were high enough in the tree, it probably did.
At least that’s what I’ve heard…
“He grouped his last five shots right in the center of the bull’s-eye. Then I showed him my technique of scattering shots randomly around the target because, as I explained, you never know which way the deer might jump just as you pull the trigger.” — Patrick McManus, The Hunting Lesson, February 1983
One That Did Not Get Away
Mark Miller from Mauston, Wisconsin and a deer of a lifetime. I don’t know if he had any buck fever, but there is certainly no ground shrinkage here!